Science Gazette

Human consciousness, animal consciousness, and artificial intelligence

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This phenomena may now be studied experimentally thanks to a new theory of consciousness. It’s not only in people.

Two Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) researchers have proposed a novel theory of consciousness. They’ve been studying the nature of consciousness for a long time, as well as how and where awareness is generated in the brain and if animals have consciousness. Consciousness, according to the new theory, is a state that is linked to sophisticated cognitive functions, rather than a passive fundamental state that takes over when we are awake.

In the journal Behavioural Brain Research, Professor Armin Zlomuzica of RUB’s Behavioral and Clinical Neuroscience research group and Professor Ekrem Dere, previously of Université Paris-Sorbonne and now of RUB, discuss their idea. The printed edition will be released on February 15, 2022, while the internet version has been accessible since November 20, 2021.

One benefit of the authors’ approach over competing models is that “the predictions underpinning our platform theory of consciousness may be evaluated in experimental experiments.” “As a result, the process of consciousness may be studied in people, animals, and even artificial intelligence.”

In-depth look into platform theory

The sophisticated cognitive processes associated with consciousness, according to platform theory, are applied to mental representations that are preserved and processed. Perceptions, emotions, experiences, memories, fantasies, and connections are all examples. In instances when acquired behavior or habits are no longer adequate for coping, conscious cognitive activities are required. Driving a vehicle or taking a shower does not need awareness. However, when something unexpected occurs, deliberate cognitive efforts are necessary to handle the problem. They’re also needed to anticipate future occurrences or challenges and devise effective coping solutions. Above all, conscious cognitive functions form the foundation for adaptive and flexible behavior, which allows people and animals to adjust to changing environmental situations.

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According to the new idea, conscious cognitive acts are carried out on the basis of a “online platform,” which functions as a type of central executive that oversees subordinate platforms. Subordinate platforms may be used to store information or actions, for example.

The importance of electrical connections between nerve cells cannot be overstated

The interplay of multiple neural networks facilitates conscious cognitive functions. Electrical synapses, also known as gap junctions, are important in this setting, according to Armin Zlomuzica and Ekrem Dere. These structures allow for exceptionally rapid signal transmission between nerve cells. They act far quicker than chemical synapses, which rely on the exchange of neurotransmitters and -modulators to communicate between cells.

An experiment that may be conducted

To verify their platform theory, the authors propose the following experiment: a person, an experimental animal, or artificial intelligence is presented with a unique issue that can only be addressed by integrating two or more rules learnt in a different context. Only conscious cognitive functions may achieve this creative combining of stored knowledge and application to a new challenge.

The researchers would be able to evaluate whether gap junctions play a critical part in the processes by delivering pharmaceutical agents that inhibit them. Gap junction blockers should make the experiment less effective. Individual rules should, however, be able to be executed routinely in the situations in which they were learnt.

“It must be investigated to what degree an artificial intelligence capable of addressing a novel and complicated issue for which it has no predetermined solution method may also be called aware,” the scientists write. “Several requirements would have to be met, for example, if it effectively presents a pandemic-fighting plan based on autonomously screening, analyzing, choosing, and creatively mixing material from the Internet.”

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